Child Custody and Parenting Plan
A parenting plan and child custody. How does it all work? It is important for parents to have established rights and responsibilities for their children. Legal custody describes how your family will handle major decisions like choice of childcare, education, activities for your children, and how medical decisions will be made. Most families have joint legal custody which means outside of an emergency parents should discuss these with each other prior to making final decisions. Sole legal custody is much less common but generally means a parent can make decisions without consulting the other parent.
Parents living in separate households also need to have a schedule for when children are with each of them. Physical custody is the division of when children are with each parent. A parenting plan will include a ‘regular’ schedule, and typically also includes the following:
You probably want a plan for how holidays are handled for your children. Holidays usually take precedence over your regular schedule and your vacation schedule. Holidays may be secular or religious. In addition to common or traditional holidays, you may want to address birthdays for family members and any special days that are important to you, the other parent, or your children.
Some typical ways to handle holidays include:
Alternate the holiday so one parent has the time in even years and the other parent has the time in odd years.
Split the holiday so each of you has time on the day. You will want to plan carefully so your children do not spend the holiday traveling all day.
Share the holiday. Cooperative parents may choose to spend time together with their children. For example, you might have a joint birthday party for your children, or trick-or-treat together on Halloween.
Set specific holidays assigned to each of you. A traditional family may have the children each year with their mother on Mother’s Day and their father on Father’s Day. Remember to consider whether birthdays occur close to or on a holiday.
You should plan for days when your children are out of school. These may be planned, like in-service days or ‘minor’ holidays; or unplanned, like sick days or inclement weather days. Some parents want to take advantage of extra time with their children on these days, while many families may need to arrange childcare on these days.
If your child is sick or school is cancelled, who cares for them? In addition, if your children transition between parents through pick up and drop off at school, what do you do when there is no school?
Parents often want an extended period of parenting time to travel with their children. Vacations override the regular schedule. You will want to consider how long children and parents are comfortable being apart from each other. You also need to think about if those days must be taken consecutively or if they can be broken up throughout the year.
Some parents also want a plan for whether or not parents may take the children out of the country and who holds the children’s passports.
It is helpful for children to have a sense of predictability, especially when their family is changing. Most adults also find it helps to know when children will be in their care and when children will be with the other parent. Mediation provides you with the opportunity to create a plan that makes sense for your family.
There are many ways to divide time. It helps to know yourselves and your children so you can craft a plan that works for all members of the family. Some things to think about include the work or school schedules for parents, the children’s ages, your children’s schedules (school or activities), the distance between parents’ homes, and how you and your coparent have been sharing duties and time when you were a couple.
There was a time when a schedule of every other weekend and one night a week was considered a default schedule. That plan continues to work well for many situations. However, many parents now may focus on 50/50 or equal time. If that is your goal there are still many ways for that to be structured so it is optimal for your family. This might be a plan where children alternate weeks with each parent or where they may spend two nights each week (like Monday and Tuesday) with one parent, two nights with the other parent (like Wednesday and Thursday) and weekends are alternated. Some families may have children spend three and a half days with each parent every week.
If the separation of parents is new, it is easy to focus on what you are missing. When you have children and they are not in the home, it may be very quiet. It is not uncommon for parents to feel lonely. Remember, children are still with a parent, it may be you that it is alone. The best parenting plan is one that works for all members of a family. Your family is not a cookie cutter and the parenting plan you have should not be cookie cutter either. At Dispute Resolution Center Law and Mediation, our goal is for you to find the plan that is best for your family and for your children.
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